I was lucky enough to be at the Garden for this game, the kind of game that left me taking pictures of the scoreboard every five minutes just to send to my friends with a “Can you believe this?!?” attached underneath it, the kind of game where you stop and appreciate just how incredible this team can be when it is firing on all cylinders. The Knicks may well be one of the two best teams in the East, the Kings might be one of the two worst teams in the West, and yet this game still felt like more than a clinical beatdown of an overwhelmed opponent. Warning: it might be also be the kind of game that inspires Princeton-like levels of grade inflation. Onward!
|Carmelo Anthony, SF 27 MIN | 4-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 9 PTS | +25 With as well as Carmelo has played this season, raising criticisms can only ever amount to nitpicking at what is a truly impressive body of work. His TS% has remained above 56% while posting a league-leading 31.2% USG rate. His defensive attention has been obvious, if not omnipresent. And frequently Melo has been praised for improving at making the right play out of the double team (something that doesn’t always show up in the box score by giving him a disproportionate number of hockey assists to regular assists.) Yet in many cases his impact on the game has still been measured by that most bludgeonlike of statistics, points per game.Tonight was interesting because, though he made several passes to teammates that set them up perfectly to score (including a particularly scrumptious dish to Amar’e for a dunk) it might remain tempting to believe his impact on the game was limited if one looked only at the box score. (Incidentally, Melo’s 9pt tally left him short of the requisite 20 to keep his consecutive games steak alive, giving him the Knicks single season record but leaving him short of the ‘Bockers all-time record.) In this case, however, what Melo provided was space for his teammates to operate. The Kings were fairly quick to double-team Anthony, and Melo’s teammates were the beneficiary. Once the game was well in hand he may have gone for his own a bit more than seemed appropriate, particularly given the defensive attention facing him, but by that point he’d earned it. A thoroughly solid if occasionally underwhelming performance from our matured star.|
|Tyson Chandler, C 29 MIN | 4-8 FG | 3-4 FT | 20 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 11 PTS | +26 Tyson’s night got off to an ignominious beginning as he threw an attempted alley-oop onto the front of the rim (One of two missed alley-oops on the night.) Fortunately, his game rebounded (see what I and fifty other writers did there) quite nicely from that point on. It suffices to say that in a game where the Knicks out-rebounded the Kings by a final margin of fifty-two to thirty, the Knicks owed much of that advantage to the tireless work of Mr. Chandler. Another game with twenty rebounds (in 29minutes) (!!!) and a 21-7-5 game in one week is the stuff All-Stars are made of.|
|Jason Kidd, PG 16 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | +7 Any game which leaves Jason the Kidd with only sixteen minutes played and without an injury is a success. Kidd did a little bit of his #KiddAtThe2 quarterbacking, keeping the ball moving quickly around the perimeter and throwing a nice alley-oop lob to Tyson out of a post position. All in all, however, this was a quiet night on which not much was required from Basketball Yoda. (Yes, that is Jason’s Jedi double. If you want to debate this fact, I eagerly await you in the comments section.)|
|Raymond Felton, PG 26 MIN | 3-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 8 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 4 TO | 7 PTS | +19 I think Raymond Felton played point guard this game? Vaguely remember a couple nice drives and some missed threes? A horrific turnover or two, forgotten due to his solid two-to-one AST-TO ratio? If I’m having trouble remembering, it’s probably because he was off the court for much of the stellar second quarter, but a fine display from Señor Penguin.|
|Iman Shumpert, PG 18 MIN | 2-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +25 During the Knicks’ January slump it felt like the team desperately needed Shumpert back to provide backcourt depth and defense. To be fair, Shump is doing a decent amount of Shumping, but it’s a reassuring sign that he’s been able to notch extremely limited minutes in solid Knicks wins, something I wouldn’t have deemed likely just two weeks ago. While there has been some sniping from Coach Woodson about Iman losing his focus on defense (to which every other individual watching the games replies, “How about having him guard the ball handler instead of chasing JJ Redick around screens?”) the Knicks appear to have the luxury of easing Iman back into his role.|
|Amar’e Stoudemire, PF 21 MIN | 10-10 FG | 1-1 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 21 PTS | +31 Amar’e shot 100% from the field on ten attempts, scored a nice And1, and generally did everything any fan could possibly expect from him, setting off the most dominant win of the season. I’ll have more to say about this.|
|Kurt Thomas, PF 13 MIN | 5-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | -4 The ultimate sign of the Knicks depth has to be that they can afford to have an explosive talent like Former NCAA Leading Scorer (™ Kurt Thomas) Kurt Thomas just lounging on their bench til the fourth quarter; then, when the game is really on the line, turn to him, put the ball in his hands and say “Kurt, we need to be up by fifty.” Never a doubt in my mind that Mr. Energy-Off-The-Bench would deliver. While some had worried that flitting in and out of the starting lineup and the DNP column from game to game might prove a distraction to a prover scorer like KT, Kurt showed that, true professional he is, he’ll accept whatever role the team asks of him, including MARKSMAN THREE POINT SHOOTER. (As Seth Rosenthal said on Twitter, if there’s still not a clip of that three on Youtube, then what is the purpose of the Internet, truly.) A+++++.|
|Chris Copeland, SF 10 MIN | 1-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 5 PTS | -5 Alliterative grading! Chris Copeland is now our twelth man. I’m no scientist, but I think that equals depth.|
|Ronnie Brewer, SF 8 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-2 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -10 Every time I see Ronnie Brewer step to the free throw line, all I can think about is how hard it would be to accurately replicate his shot in 2K. I’m actually too scared by the challenge to even try; I havn’t attempted a free throw with RB, and I don’t know if the gamemakers wasted time getting down his shooting motion. But man, the hitch in that stroke! Every free throw reminds me of a stutter kick penalty kick in soccer, and the result is normally something like, well, this.
Even more rattled are the rebounders waiting down the lane- violations could be called on basically every Ronnie Brewer free throw. Once the ball is hoisted you know that you should Get Set, but that still gives you no clue when to Go.-
(Watching that race is well worth your time.)
Anyway, Ronnie is struggling.
|Steve Novak, SF 17 MIN | 5-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 15 PTS | +31 Novak was pondstompin’ all over the place on this night. I’m pretty sure there’s a German word for the perfect synchronicity between one’s capabilities and one’s performance, but that’s only because they cheat and mash lots of words together into one long word. Pretty much the ideal Novak statline here, and I appreciated him putting to sleep the rumor that he was in a slump.(Putting to sleep here means killing. He killed the rumor. Killed it.)|
|Pablo Prigioni, PG 22 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 7 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 3 PTS | +20 Pablo didn’t want to shoot. He didn’t want you to force him to do that to you. Pablo tried to just pass it to his teammates and go for the occasional steal. But you, Mr. Referee- you crossed him. You called him for a foul on what was a clean steal. First he is not named to the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, and now you call a foul on him? The utter disrespect- and The Pest doesn’t tolerate being crossed twice. It came as no surprise, then, that when the ball swung to Pablo at the top of the arc, and the crowd roared for him to take the shot, he set his aim and- bang. Pablo’s revenge was complete. Also, the Knicks have a better-than-average back-up PG. I’m convinced of it. Wheeee!|
|J.R. Smith, SG 22 MIN | 9-16 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 25 PTS | +36 There came a moment in the game when, from the stands, it was obvious the Knicks were going to win pretty handily. You could almost see the gears turning in JR’s head as he realized the same on the court, and the inevitable result was “Time for me to start shooting!” Luckily we were mostly treated to Catch-and-Shoot JR, and Catch-and-Shoot JR is my favorite JR, as anyone who’s read this can appreciate.
I’ll take 50% from 3 on volume attempts any day of the week.
|James White, SG 12 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 2 PTS | -6 I had trouble with the HTML, but James gets a B, not an A+. Anyway, if James White and Steve Novak have one thing in common, it’s that neither seems to have the handle to drive past their man to the hoop. Thus, for either to dunk in a game would require a fast break opportunity or, better yet, a 1v0 straight to the basket. Unfortunately, much like what befell Steve Novak in Milwaukee, although a turnover provided White an opportunity to go right at the rack, Isaiah Thomas (BOOOOOOOOO!) fouled him before he could work up a full head of steam. It’s a real shame too– I’d feel better about White’s chances of making the dunk contest if he’d actually thrown one down in a game. All we can do is hope that the Dunk Contest organizers have seen this.|
|Mike WoodsonThat timeout Woody called in the first quarter must have contained the most inspirational speech from a basketball coach since Hoosiers. Nice work MW!|
Five Things We Saw
- Watching Amar’e’s resurgence has been one of my most enjoyable experiences as a sports fan ever. True, no one is going to confuse the Magic, Bucks, Kings, or (suddenly woeful) Hawks with a true contenda, and it’s a limited stretch of play, and we don’t want to set unreasonable expectations, and yadda yadda yadda. But over the current four game winning streak Amar’e has shot 28-36, or 77.7%, from the floor. His TS% has been above 80%. His defense has been adequate in absolute terms, but it has looked demonstrably better relative to his historical play. He has played in a way that I never thought he would play like again. He has resembled the player who, for the first half of the 2010 season, was deservedly earning ringing chants of MVP from the Garden crowd.
This is not hyperbole. I recognize that there are a host of differences between playing like this over an entire season vs. four games, between playing like this against bad teams vs. good ones, between playing like this in February vs. May. But the fact remains that this is the way Amar’e is playing. And so, the main thing I want to get across is to enjoy this while it continues, for however long it lasts. I’m furiously knocking on wood as I say this, but watching Amar’e play to his fullest is something that could be taken from Knicks fans at any moment, as we are all too well aware. Amar’e when healthy is a singularly incredible offensive talent in a way that is almost impossible to adequately describe. During the game there were tweets bouncing back and forth about just how incredible it is that STAT, despite all the physical issues he’s had throughout his career, still has enough athleticism left over to dominate games in this fashion. When the Kings were forced to send a hard double at Amar’e I almost leapt out of my chair. (I did leap out of my chair when his pass out of the double team led to a Novak three.) This is Amar’e at his best.
Even more important for this team, incredibly, is STAT’s continued acceptance of his role off the bench. Every time I see another quotation from Pau Gasol whining about his minutes or starting or finishing games or his status in the league or who the hell knows what, I give thanks that the Knicks are blessed to have a player who so willingly puts the team first. Oftentimes as fans we are told to remind ourselves that this is a business, that loyalty is always trumped by dollar signs. I am well aware of this reality. The Knicks reportedly repeatedly inquired about offloading Amar’e earlier this season. STAT came to New York because the Knicks offered him a five-year max contract that no other team appeared ready to dish out.
However, there is still room within that reality to appreciate Amar’e for being far more than what we could expect. This was evident from the beginning- he came for the money, yes, but as has been said many times, he also demonstrably appreciated the challenge of reviving New York basketball. It is even more evident now. I am well aware of the fact that if Amar’e were in a contract year and fighting for his next paycheck he might feel differently about his playing time, (as I feel almost anyone would.) But it is still true that there are many athletes who, money aside, would not have been able to accept coming off the bench after such an incredible career, particularly as their quality of play approached such a high level. Amar’e continues from all outward signs to appreciate his role, and for that I am incredibly thankful.
- To the “#StartStat” crew: I understand where you’re coming from. Melo-Amar’e-Chandler continues to be an incredibly effective lineup, so you aren’t necessarily even wrong. But I would caution that the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality might apply here. The Spurs and Manu Ginobili are the only example that I can think of that accurately approximates having a player of this quality coming off the bench, and the key thing to understand is that, whenever able, the Spurs have stuck to keeping him on the bench because it works. Even in games where Manu was undisputedly the MVP, the team understood that everything functioned best if he remained on the bench. I believe that this might be true with Amar’e as well, not because Melo, Amar’e, and Chandler are unable to play together, but because it maximizes the amount of time when we have an unbelievably potent scorer on the floor in either Amar’e or Melo.
- Demarcus Cousins needs to be traded. He’s incredibly talented and scored at will, during the stretches of the game when he willed to score. But it’s obvious that he is still not the kind of leader who can rally his teammates around him, which meant that when the Knicks started getting hot, the Kings had no oneto rally them. Who is supposed to lead that team?I understand why the Kings want to hold onto such a dynamic talent. But if they aren’t going to trade him, they need to trade somebody- anybody- whoever they can – for a veteran leader to make sure that team competes night in and night out.
- The Kings really are Struggle City. I’ve been positive about everything the Knicks did up until this point in the recap, but really, you don’t go up fifty on another professional team- no matter how good you are- without the other team aiding considerably to the process. I don’t want to kick a team when they’re down, so I’ll just say that the entire team looked disinterested except for the players who weren’t good enough to actually change anything, and the coach seemed resigned to the fact that he had no ability to rouse his team to better play. (I tried. I tried to be nice. Really.)
- Finally, the Knicks’ win means that if the Raptors knock off the Heat this afternoon, your Knicks will be #1 in the East and Mike Woodson will coach the Eastern All-Stars. As we go into halftime, the Raptors are up by 6. Happy Super Bowl Sunday.